Gender issues: Enhancing the role of women in peace negotiations and related decision-making processes in Southern Africa

Bokani Hart, EISA, June 2002

Voters line up to vote in SA's 1994 election

Despite the fact that women are adversely and disproportionately affected by armed conflicts in Southern Africa, they are marginalised in official decision-making processes relating to regional peace and security issues. Consequently, their gender-specific concerns and perspectives are rarely acknowledged and incorporated into peace processes, particularly peace negotiations and agreements. In fact, women's under-representation in these decision-making processes is directly related to their under-representation at the highest levels of government where decisions concerning peace and security are currently taken (Vickers 1993, 11).

Even though Southern African women make up at least half of the electorate in countries throughout the region and have attained the right to vote and hold office, they continue to be under-represented as candidates for public office. For example, no Southern African country has ever elected a woman to the post of head of state or government. As Skjelsbæk (1997) and Vickers (1993) point out, this trend is reflected at the global level, where men dominate the world's parliaments and monopolise the defence and foreign affairs portfolios, which are traditionally associated with peace and security issues (Skjelsbæk 1997, 30; Vickers 1993, 112). In effect, it is men who wage war and women and children who suffer the consequences.

The United Nations (UN) has played a major role in highlighting the gender dimensions of conflict, peace and security. In 1947, the UN Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW), which is responsible for promoting the advancement of women, was created to prepare recommendations and reports on women's social, political, economic and civil rights. Since 1975, the CSW has organised four World Conferences on Women, which have demonstrated an increasing awareness of the impact of gender differences on conflict, peace and security (Skjelsbæk 1997).

The World Conference on Women, which was held in Nairobi in 1985, was the first world conference on women where issues of conflict and peace featured prominently on the agenda. It outlined what are known as the Forward-Looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women to the Year 2000, which focused on the themes of equality, development and peace as the main areas of concern (Skjelsbæk 1997). The Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies stressed the importance of women's participation in decision-making processes relating to peace and security on an equal footing with men. Paragraph 235 states that:

Universal and durable peace cannot be attained without the full and equal participation of women in international relations, particularly in decision-making concerning peace, including the processes envisaged for the peaceful settlement of disputes under the Charter of the United Nations nor without overcoming the obstacles mentioned in Paragraph 232 (UN 1986).


SKJELSBÆK, I 1997 Gendered Battlefields: A Gender Analysis of Peace and Conflict, PRIO, Oslo.

UN 1986, Report of the World Conference to Review and Appraise the Achievements of the United Nations Decade for Women: Equality, Development and Peace, held in Nairobi, Kenya from 15 to 26 July 1985 (A/CONF.116/28/Rev.1), New York, [www] [opens new window].